East Side Compost Pedallers give innovative approach to recycling program

Drew Wherle cycles through east Austin using a custom-built cargo bike carrying a heavy load, catching the attention of pedestrians while cars honk their horns to support his effort. The four containers that can hold up to 800 pounds of organic waste release a strong rancid smell that is hard to miss. Biking through steep hills and roads with heavy traffic, Drew manages to pedal his way through town collecting “scrapple”, starting at 7:30 a.m.

The East Side Compost Pedallers are a 100% bike-powered compost recycling program in Austin. Pedallers, like Wherle, collect organic waste from local businesses and homes, using their custom-made pedicabs to ride around town during chilly mornings and hot afternoons. The organic waste, or “scrapple”, is then turned into fertilizers to grow local food in community gardens and farms.

“As we’re riding, we are kind of a sight to be seen,” said Drew, as he wipes off the sweat from his forehead. “In a way, we are protesting conventional means of recycling and composting, and trying to change how people view waste and a garbage can.”

Using bicycles to emit zero fossil fuels, the pedallers ride through the streets with a smile, gulping water to account for the heavy workout under the 12 p.m. heat.

“There’s a huge disconnect between the people producing these compostables and the farmers who need them,” Christina Brandt, ESCP Director of Membership, said. “We saw that problem and thought Austin would be on board.”

Since their launch in December 2012, ESCP has created 49,817 pounds of compost for local growers, and have saved 30,688 tons of methane from being released into the atmosphere.

According to Brandt, in most municipal operations, a truck will drive with diesel fuel more than 20,000 miles just to get to the first collection. It will then drive all the way back to their landfill-style pile, which emits more methane and makes lower quality compost than their own piles.

The Wednesday route includes local businesses such as East Side Pies and Blue Dahlia’s. Their “scrapple” includes mainly onions, lettuce, and other leftover vegetables that give away a rotten, but natural, smell. After that, there are around nine more stops in houses that can be easily spotted as part of the program, given their “I Love Compost” signs outside their colorful Austinite homes.

While collecting the buckets of waste outside the homes and restaurants, pedallers are required to leave a personalized drawing or a cartoon as a thank you note for the participants in the project.

“It is a good way to keep people motivated,” Wherle said. “More than just a recycling program, we let them know that there is a person who cares and is grateful for their compost. It lets us build a better community and we just get to know everyone better.”

After four hours of cycling around the area, Wherle makes a stop at the Blackshear Community Garden to deliver around 20 pounds of “scrapple”. He places it in the “cooking sites” to process the organics that will completely decompose into recycled fertilizers.

Pedallers have created a small green world within Austin that calls for a more local and sustainable approach to what the common citizen perceives as garbage. Wehrle, covered in dirt and food leftovers from head to toe, has now acquired the smell of the scrapple.

“I could easily be working at a biomedical research facility, but I prefer a company that I feel strongly about,” he adds.

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